But, in the end, the only sensible way to think of this race is "Bush versus Kerry," and tonight the incumbent gets a chance to lay the foundation of "I have a plan" and to remind people why they like him.
While The Note will judge the speech on just one criterion -- whether the President explains in excruciating detail how he will pay for the transition costs of a Social Security reform plan that includes personal savings accounts -- we are sure others will look at different indices.
Tonight's speech will be, in the President's own words, 43 minutes of "sheer wisdom." More on the speech below.
Sen. Kerry kicks off the post-convention campaign season off at 11:30pm this evening at a rally in Springfield, Ohio with his running mate John Edwards.
Before that, Sen. Edwards also hosts a noon town hall with Pennsylvania voters in Norristown, PA.
Republican National Convention: Bush previews:
Topics and themes that the media has said will be explored: tax reform, Social Security, intelligence, health care, an "ownership" society, education, and worker training. The Columbus Dispatch's Joe Hallet touts, in an exclusive interview with the President aboard Air Force One, "President Bush will ask Americans tonight for a second term by promising to transform government's role at home and abroad, enabling citizens to take advantage of a changing economy while spreading liberty around the world." LINK
The President tells Hallet that the speech is "'43 minutes of sheer wisdom.'"
The Washington Post's Allen and Weisman preview the "Ownership Society" theme. LINK
"Bush's agenda consists almost entirely of expanded or repackaged ideas he has promoted before -- partly because the deficit precludes major new programs. Outside economists said campaign strategists argued this week that the political terrain has shifted dramatically in the president's favor and that specific proposals are unnecessary."
And the duo have these stuffing-filled paragraphs:
"The prime-time address, which is scheduled to last about 50 minutes, will try to characterize the invasion of Iraq as an essential step toward bringing democracy to the Middle East. Bush's speeches during his week-long tour of swing states en route to New York included frequent references to the 'transformational' power of liberty, and aides said he will use that rubric to explain his domestic and foreign agendas."
"Aides said Bush's address will seek to appeal to supporters who fell away as the war dragged on and casualties mounted. The president hopes to reclaim some of that support by devoting part of his speech to describing himself and how he makes decisions. Advisers said Bush will describe much of his record and intentions as "reforming and adapting government," including creating the Homeland Security Department and enacting a prescription drug benefit for Medicare."
"'We're the incumbent party running on an agenda of change. Here's what we want to do: We need to do these reforms. We need to change the government. We need to make it adapt,' said Matthew Dowd, the Bush-Cheney campaign's chief strategist."